Talk on History and Philosophy of Origins Research

I have been invited to give a talk at the EON Workshop on History and Philosophy of Origins Research, which will be held August 24-26 at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo.

The title and abstract of my contribution are as follows:

The concept of the individual in cognitive science and origins of life

Tom Froese

The field of cognitive science was inaugurated on the basis of the computational theory of mind. The metaphor of the digital computer had several implications: it restricted the field to understanding all of cognition in terms of the manipulation of symbols; it focused research on passive information processing; and it limited the scope of inquiry to processes taking place within the physical boundaries of the system. This concept of an individual, as a system engaged in passive internal symbol manipulation, seems to be implicitly shared by theories of the origins of life that are focused on encapsulated processing of informational molecules. Yet in cognitive science this concept of the individual has been undergoing a series of deep revisions, such that it is now replaced by its exact opposite: an individual is seen as primarily a system that is embodied, extended, and as actively engaged in direct relations with the physical and social environment. I analyze what origins of life research could learn from this shift in the history of cognitive science.

Perspectives on open-ended evolution

I gave a talk at the first workshop on open-ended evolution that was held in association with the European Conference on Artificial Life in 2015. A report about that workshop has now been published in the Artificial Life journal.

Open-ended evolution: Perspectives from the OEE workshop in York

Tim Taylor, Mark Bedau, Alastair Channon, David Ackley, Wolfgang Banzhaf, Guillaume Beslon, Emily Dolson, Tom Froese, Simon Hickinbotham, Takashi Ikegami, Barry McMullin, Norman Packard, Steen Rasmussen, Nathaniel Virgo, Eran Agmon, Edward Clark, Simon McGregor, Charles Ofria, Glen Ropella, Lee Spector, Kenneth O. Stanley, Adam Stanton, Christopher Timperley, Anya Vostinar, Michael Wiser

We describe the content and outcomes of the First Workshop on Open-Ended Evolution: Recent Progress and Future Milestones (OEE1), held during the ECAL 2015 conference at the University of York, UK, in July 2015. We briefly summarize the content of the workshopʼs talks, and identify the main themes that emerged from the open discussions. Two important conclusions from the discussions are: (1) the idea of pluralism about OEE—it seems clear that there is more than one interesting and important kind of OEE; and (2) the importance of distinguishing observable behavioral hallmarks of systems undergoing OEE from hypothesized underlying mechanisms that explain why a system exhibits those hallmarks. We summarize the different hallmarks and mechanisms discussed during the workshop, and list the specific systems that were highlighted with respect to particular hallmarks and mechanisms. We conclude by identifying some of the most important open research questions about OEE that are apparent in light of the discussions.

The York workshop provides a foundation for a follow-up OEE2 workshop taking place at the ALIFE XV conference in Cancún, Mexico, in July 2016. Additional materials from the York workshop, including talk abstracts, presentation slides, and videos of each talk, are available at http://alife.org/ws/oee1.

Proceedings and introduction of ALIFE XV

Proceeding_Artificial_Life_XV_Cover_1_lowThe Proceedings of the Artificial Life Conference 2016, which I co-edited, have been released by MIT Press on an open access basis.

I also co-wrote the Introduction to the proceedings. We showed that the prehistoric Maya had already conceived of the possibility of artificial life, which made the Riviera Maya a fitting place for the conference.

They not only saw the potential usefulness of living technology, but also warned of the devastating consequences of a society’s blind reliance on its technology.

Their concerns therefore nicely introduced the conference’s special theme of “Artificial Life and Society”.

Clarification of English translation of job title

It has come to my attention that some people have interpreted my translation of my current official Spanish job title (“Investigador Asociado C”) as the English title “Associate Professor” as motivated by self-aggrandizement. Nothing could be further from my mind.

The fact of the matter is that there is no officially sanctioned translation from my university, and there are different translations in use. For example, in a job advertisement of the same category of position, we find it translated as “full-time tenure-track assistant / associate professor”, whereas the more literal translation of “Research Associate” has instead been used in the context of calls for postdoctoral appointments. Nevertheless, I now realize that there are also institutes of the university that have reserved the translation of “Associate Professor” for the Spanish job title “Investigador Titular B” and I do not want to give the impression that I share their job title.

Accordingly, I have removed my English job translations from this website and from my CV. Until the university gives an official statement on the matter of how to translate UNAM job titles I will henceforth simply describe myself as being a “tenure-track faculty member”.

Translation of perceptual crossing analysis

A Spanish translation of the perceptual crossing study of the development of social awareness has been published in the 2016 book Cognición: Estudios Multidisciplinarios by the Centro de Estudios Filosóficos, Políticos y Sociales Vicente Lombardo Toledano in Mexico City.

Interfaces humano-computadora mínimas para el estudio del desarrollo interactivo de la conciencia social

Tom Froese, Hiroyuki Iizuka & Takashi Ikegami

De acuerdo al enfoque enactivo de las ciencias cognitivas, la percepción es esencialmente una forma habilidosa de abordar al mundo. Aprender como abordarlo mediante interfaces humano-computadora, (IHC) puede por lo tanto ser visto como una forma de desarrollar un nuevo modo de experiencia. De forma similar, se ha teorizado que la percepción social está constituida por una forma hábil de abordarse entre personas, lo que implica que es posible investigar los orígenes y desarrollo de la conciencia social utilizando IHCs multiusuario. En el presente artículo analizamos los cambios objetivos y subjetivos ensayo-a-ensayo en la socialización que tuvo lugar durante un experimento de cruce perceptual, en el cual, la interacción corporeizada entre pares de adultos fue mediada por una IHC háptica minimalista. Dado que el estudio requirió que los participantes reaprendieran implícitamente cómo abordarse entre sí para percibir las presencias el uno del otro, hipotetizamos que habría indicaciones de que los estadios iniciales de la conciencia social eran de hecho recapitulados. Resultados preliminares revelan que, pese a una carencia de retroalimentación explicita sobre el desempeño de la tarea, había una tendencia de la conciencia social a incrementar a través del tiempo. Discutimos los desafíos metodológicos implicados en evaluar si esta tendencia fue causada por distintos estadios del desarrollo de conducta objetiva y experiencia subjetiva.

Cognición - Estudios Multidisciplinarios

Publication in Economic Botany

Based on critical responses to my ritualized mind alteration hypothesis of the origins of symbolic cognition in early human evolution, I was led to consider the possible availability of psychoactive substances in African and European prehistory. This led to a fruitful collaboration with Guzmán and Guzmán-Dávalos, who are experts on the genus Psilocybe. The result of our work has just been released in Economic Botany (click on title below for a preprint PDF).

On the origin of the genus Psilocybe and its potential ritual use in ancient Africa and Europe

Tom Froese, Gastón Guzmán, and Laura Guzmán-Dávalos

The role of altered states of consciousness in the production of geometric and figurative art by prehistoric cultures in Africa and Europe has been hotly debated. Helvenston and Bahn have tried to refute the most famous hypothesis, Lewis-Williams’ neuropsychological model, by claiming that appropriate visual hallucinations required the ingestion of LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline, while arguing that none of these compounds were available to the cultures in question. We present here mycological arguments that tell another story. A prehistoric worldwide distribution of the mushroom genus Psilocybe, and therefore of psilocybin, is supported by the existence of endemic species in America, Africa, and Europe, the disjunct distribution of sister species, and the possibility of long-distance spore dispersal. It is more difficult to point to instances of actual prehistoric ritual use in Africa and Europe, but there are a growing number of suggestive findings.

Selva Pascuala mural

Selva Pascuala mural, Spain

Game theoretic model of Maya warfare and the royal court

In collaboration with Roberto Ulloa we modeled the effects of Maya warfare on elite social network topology. The paper will be presented at this year’s ALIFE 2016 conference and will be published in its proceedings by MIT Press.

Nobility-targeting raids among the Classic Maya: Cooperation in scale-free networks persists under tournament attack when population size fluctuates

Roberto Ulloa and Tom Froese

Cooperation in scale-free networks has proven to be very robust against removal of randomly selected nodes (error) but highly sensitive to removal of the most connected nodes (attack). In this paper we analyze two comparable types of node removal in which the removal selection is based on tournaments where the fittest (raids) or the least fit (battles) nodes are chosen. We associate the two removals to two types of Maya warfare offences during the Classic period. During this period of at least 500 years, political leaders were able to sustain social order in spite of attack-like offences to their social networks. We present a computational model with a population fluctuation mechanism that operates under an evolutionary game theoretic approach using the Prisoner’s Dilemma as a metaphor of cooperation. We find that paradoxically battles are able to uphold cooperation under moderate levels of raids, although raids do have a strong impact on the network structure. We infer that cooperation does not depend as much on the structure as it does on the underlying mechanism that allows the network to readjust. We relate the results to the Maya Classic period, concluding that Mayan warfare by itself cannot entirely explain the Maya political collapse without appealing to other factors that increased the pressures against cooperation.

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First International Conference on Language and Enaction

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to the First International Conference on Language and Enaction, which will take place June 1-3 in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The title and abstract of my talk are as follows:

From lower to higher, from self to other: Approaching the phenomenon of language from the bottom up

Tom Froese

The enactive approach to cognitive science is currently faced by the challenge of overcoming the cognitive gap between its theories of the basic organismic mind and specifically human capacities centered on symbolic cognition. At the same time there appears to be a tension between its self-related concepts, such as autopoiesis and adaptivity, and its other-related concepts, such as participatory sense-making and languaging. I argue that these tensions can be resolved in a complementary fashion by clarifying that enactive theory does not adhere to an internalist epistemology, which can be most clearly seen in terms of its rejection of methodological individualism. Once our thinking is freed from that isolating framework it becomes evident that the enactive approach has the potential to become a fruitful paradigm for linguistics. I finish by considering its implications for language evolution, in particular regarding claims of innateness based on the assumption of the poverty of the stimulus as well as gesture-first theories.

To kick off this trip to Europe I will also give two seminars:

On May 30 I will talk about “Ritualized mind alteration and the origins of the symbolic mind: Recent insights from cognitive science” at the Collegium Helveticum in Zurich.

And on May 31 I will give a talk with the title “Can we extend the sensorimotor approach to social perception?” at Kevin O’Regan’s FEEL project lab in Paris.

Special issue has been released!

It’s been a long time in the making, but finally it has come out: a special issue of Constructivist Foundations dedicated to a comprehensive reflection on the relationships between enaction and other alternative approaches to cognitive science! It is the biggest issue of the journal yet.

For a small donation you can get a print version of the special issue delivered to you! Please help to support this free online journal. Click the link for details: http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/subscriptions/voluntary.html

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Workshops at Artificial Life 2016

In addition to helping to organize this year’s International Conference on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems (ALIFE 2016), I am contributing to the organization of two associated workshops. Here are the calls for abstracts.

The Biological Foundations of Enactivism

The workshop will bring together researchers in enactive cognition, computational modeling, biology, and philosophy, to discuss the biological foundations of enactivism. Of particular interest are issues related to the maintenance of autonomous systems, and the origins of autonomous systems.

Submissions to the workshop are extended abstracts (1 or 2 pages). Contributions may be original or previously published. Accepted abstracts will be put online. Authors of accepted submissions will present their project to the workshop in a 5-10 minute talk.

Submission deadline is May 13, 2016.

Multidisciplinary Applications of Evolutionary Game Theory

Evolutionary game theory is profoundly interdisciplinary and the flow of knowledge between different fields is of crucial importance for its future development and application. The goal of the workshop is to show the state-of-the-art of the field and connect researchers with different backgrounds, from physicists and computer scientists to economists and sociologists and invite them to share ideas and learn from each other.

We invite the submission of 1- to 4-page abstracts (Alife conference format). Contributions will be evaluated on their merit for presentation. After the workshop, the most relevant contributions will be invited to provide an extended manuscript for a special issue on evolutionary game theory in the Artificial Life journal (MIT Press).

The deadline for the submission of abstracts is April 17th, 2016.

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